Sport Soccer

Saturday 21 October 2017

Only way to reclaim game's integrity is to ditch Qatar

Winter World Cup no solution to travesty created by FIFA's shameful lust for desert gold

FIFA President Sepp Blatter was urging a patient reaction to the 'exhaustive consultations' now taking place behind closed doors
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was urging a patient reaction to the 'exhaustive consultations' now taking place behind closed doors
James Lawton

James Lawton

The day Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup, one of the beaten contenders, Australia, was staging an Ashes Test in the beautiful Adelaide Oval.

You didn't have to be a cricket aficionado to luxuriate in the splendour of the occasion. A breeze ruffled the eucalyptus trees and in normal circumstances you might have appreciated the pungent aroma. The problem, though, was the pervading stench of those deliberations in the FIFA voting chamber.

They stank then of the most cynical, money-grabbing opportunism and now, three years on, the news that the entire world football agenda is likely to be re-arranged in order to prevent the physical disaster of a Qatari World Cup in a blistering summer only intensifies the reek of corruption.

This week FIFA rushed out a statement which pointed out that the organisation's secretary-general Jerome Valcke was merely thinking out loud when he declared that the tournament would be played sometime between November and January and thus guarantee a huge disruption of the organisation of the world game.

President Sepp Blatter was urging a patient reaction to the 'exhaustive consultations' now taking place behind closed doors.

But consultations between whom? "The family of football" is how Blatter describes the gaggle of vested interests.

Some family it is which has -- for many sober judges -- signalled the end of international football as a well-ordered, responsible expression of the world's most popular game. It is a crime family in its willingness to compromise, even trash, the integrity of the game it is supposed to protect.

The rage which greeted the original decision could hardly have been greater but then if it had a slimmer base it was hardly negligible.

One reaction was that it was less a World Cup, with all its traditional colour and intrigue, more an ultimate test of air conditioning and the capacity of FIFA to turn huge profit even in a desert enclave with an appalling human rights record and the nearest thing to a notable landmark in a vast complex of gas storage tanks half an hour's flight from the Lego-land capital of Doha.

The smell of Qatar 2022 has simply become more refined, concentrated.

It wafts from the appalling, unavoidable conclusion that when FIFA overlooked the world class bids of Australia, the United States, South Korea and Japan in favour of a nation with a population of 1.7m, including an army of ill-used immigrant workers, they were leaving not so much as a smoking gun as conclusive evidence of their unfitness to rule.

GRIDIRON

The United States produced outstanding results in 1994 and looked favourites, 28 years after that success, to further prosecute the battle against gridiron, baseball, basketball and ice hockey on football's last frontier. South Korea and Japan were at the heart of the Far Eastern expansion and could draw on their impressive performance in 2002.

Australia in some ways had the most eye-catching pedigree of all. Hosts of two successful Olympics, and World Cups of cricket and rugby, and arguably the most committed of all sports nations, they too were cast aside in the rush for desert gold.

As the world's leading leagues now contemplate huge disruption, there can be only the darkest mirth when recalling the pre-vote declaration of the leader of the winning bid, Hassan Al-Thawadi.

He said, "We know it would be a bold gamble and an exciting prospect -- but with no risk. Heat is not and will not be an issue."

That was rendered a ludicrous statement by the merest glance at the seasonal temperature charts.

But then the outrage, the disbelief, could only have been sharpened if you happened to have been at England's international game with Brazil in Doha a year earlier. The game was played in November, at the front end of the new likely scheduling for 2022, but the need for air conditioning was still apparent enough.

More incredible, though, was the idea that one of the world's two greatest sports events should descend on this place so utterly detached from World Cup football's cultural imperative of a society either historically or potentially impassioned by its greatest tournament.

There could only be one rationale. It was the lure of the Qatari fortunes.

Now FIFA dives through so many hoops in an effort to limit the argument to the avoidance of summer disaster in the Middle East and there is scarcely a hint of the most honourable solution.

This, with eight years to go, is surely the kind of reflection which would signal some remnants of the responsibility in the world authority. It would lead to the admission that for various reasons, not least the advance of individual wealth, a grievous, indeed catastrophic mistake has been made.

Of course the World Cup of 2022 should go out to tender once more.

In 1986, eight years after the help and succour handed to the shocking regime of the generals in Argentina, Mexico replaced as hosts financially embarrassed, drug-cartel besieged Colombia, but if the solution was practical it also stirred a firestorm of controversy over the relationship between FIFA and the winning TV rights holders.

However, the Qatar decision has taken football into another dimension of duplicity and fractured values.

It is a nightmare, we saw again this week, which permits only one satisfactory deliverance.

The problem is that for FIFA to admit its appalling miscalculation of what might be deemed acceptable would require something akin to a working conscience.

In its absence, Blatter and his cronies might be wise to note that the smoke from the gun they fired so cynically is beginning to billow.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport